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Panasonic DMR-BS750 and 850 review

Seth Barton
13 Aug 2009
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
700
and £800 inc VAT

An expensive all-in-one device for enjoying and archiving HD video, photos and music in your living room.

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Panasonic has released the world's first Blu-ray video recorders: the DMR-BS750 and 850.

Both models have dual FreeSat TV tuners. We tested the cheaper 750, which has a 250GB disk, but an extra £100 gets you the otherwise identical 850, with its 500GB disk. Either way you get a stylish device that's almost silent unless you're burning a disc.

We've previously seen a FreeSat PVR, the Humax Foxsat-HDR, so the ability to record programmes from BBC's and ITV's HD services is nothing new. However, the DMR-BS750 and 850 let you archive HD recordings to writable Blu-ray discs. There are some issues with copy protection, though. BBC HD recordings can only be copied to disc once, while ITV content can't currently be copied at all, though Panasonic has stated that it's hopeful this will change in the near future. The 250GB hard disk will hold around 38 hours of HD or 105 hours of standard definition (SD) programming, with the 500GB disk obviously doubling those figures.

You can copy recordings to both write-once and rewritable Blu-ray media. Discs aren't cheap: a 25GB BD-R costs £4, a 50GB BD-R is £11 and a 25GB BD-RE is £8. The interface for copying discs could be streamlined, though it's never confusing thanks to clear onscreen directions. You have to use the separate Copy menu, rather than copying straight from Recordings, and you have to format the disc in the Blu-ray Management menu first. A one-hour HD programme took 15 minutes to burn to a 2x BD-RE disc and just under seven minutes to a 6x BD-R disc.

We had no trouble playing finalised BD-R discs on our PlayStation 3, but our Samsung BD-P1500 player, like many, doesn't support rewritable discs. Disappointingly, BD-RE discs can't be finalised, and so won't play in any other players. In addition, HD content can't be burned to DVD media.

You can re-encode HD content to fit more on a disc. A 25GB disc will hold around three-and-a-half hours of programming from BBC HD. Switching to the second-best HX setting increased this to six hours, but only affected image quality in the most hectic of scenes. You can burn and re-encode simultaneously, but it must be done in real time. You can also re-encode HD content as SD MPEG2, with no copy limitations and impressive-looking results.

Dual in the crown

To use both FreeSat tuners you'll need a dish with twin low-noise block converters (LNBs); luckily, Sky's MiniDish has just such outputs.

The Panasonic recorders may have dual tuners, unlike many DVD recorders, but they aren't as well designed as many dedicated PVRs. The tuner in use doesn't constantly buffer what you're watching, so you can't skip back if you miss something. To timeshift you have to press the Pause button to activate that mode. Once in timeshifting mode, there's no timeline bar to tell you where you are in the programme, and you can't access other menus or the electronic programme guide (EPG). The FreeSat-branded timeline EPG is easy to navigate and supports series link recording, but there's no video window or audio, so you can't keep an eye on your programme while browsing the schedules.

Archiving HD programmes may sound appealing, but there still isn't much HD content on FreeSat. Thankfully, the DMR-BS recorders have plenty of other attractive features. You can capture HD footage from an AVCHD camcorder to the hard disk or directly to Blu-ray. There are video and audio inputs for analogue capture, plus FireWire for archiving digtial video straight to disc.

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